At 13, Mo'Ne Davis is ready for her moment in the spotlight

Posted: August 14, 2014

WHAT I WANT more than anything right now is a Mo'Ne Davis jersey. The teenage pitching phenom is the hottest player in baseball.

Not only does the 13-year-old South Philly resident play for the Taney Dragons, which recently made history by being the first team from urban Philly to make it into the Little League World Series, but she's a girl.

That's right. Mo'Ne Ikea Davis is a female player on an otherwise all-male team. When she takes the mound Friday, Mo'Ne will be the first American girl to play in the Little League World Series since 2004.

I can't wait.

Not only am I going to watch, I want my three nieces to tune in. Something tells me history is about to be made.

It's in the air, which is why "Inside Edition" and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" have reached out to Mo'Ne. Newspapers and magazines from around the country are clamoring for interviews with the slightly built eighth-grader who stands 5 feet 4 and weighs 105 pounds. Surely it won't be long until talk-show magnate Oprah Winfrey reaches out.in

When I caught up with Mo'Ne at the house where she's staying in Williamsport, she sounded calm and focused - despite the fact that her cellphone had been ringing practically nonstop.

"I'm not nervous in any way. I just want to go out and have fun," Mo'Ne told me before heading out to practice.

Not so for her mom.

Lakeisha Mclean, who was in Philadelphia yesterday, was on edge because of all the calls from reporters.

"They are just calling from back to back to back. They are not even giving me time to breathe," complained Mclean, 32. "She's crossed over to a completely different level now, and I believe it's kind of getting to Mo'Ne right now. I believe she's really getting tired of it. They keep calling her phone back to back.

"I had somebody just call me from Denver saying, 'Can we fly down from Denver and meet her right now?' I'm like, 'Huh?' "

Throwing spirals at 7

One of her coaches, Steve Bandura, remembers the first time he glimpsed Mo'Ne in action. She was 7, and tossing a football.

"She's throwing just effortless, perfect spirals with the football and throwing the ball a long way. I said, 'Who is this?' " recalled Bandura, who coaches basketball, football and baseball for the Anderson Monarchs, which is based out of the Marian Anderson Rec Center, 17th and Fitzwater streets.

He walked over and introduced himself and suggested that Mo'Ne come back to the rec center for basketball practice.

"I just thought there was no way I was ever going to see this kid again," Bandura recalled. "We started practice, and five minutes into practice she came walking in with her mom."

He remembers watching as the girl blended in, joining in on a three-man weave drill in which players take turns tossing the ball to each other as they make their way downcourt.

"How many 7-year-old girls would go into a gym with all boys that she doesn't know and feel comfortable and confident enough?" Bandura asked. Mo'Ne has been a point guard on the team ever since.

But wait, there's more: Mo'Ne also is a central midfielder on the Anderson Monarchs soccer team.

It's head-spinning when you think about all the sports she plays and the teams she's on. Here's a quick scorecard:

* Basketball: Anderson Monarchs, Springside Chestnut Hill (SCH) and in a summer league.

* Soccer: Anderson Monarchs and SCH.

* Fall baseball: Anderson Monarchs.

* Baseball: Anderson Monarchs and Taney Dragons.

She's also an honor-roll student at the prestigious Springside Chestnut Hill Academy. It was at Bandura's urging that Mo'Ne's family applied to send her there.

"They were very generous with financial aid. She tested so well and her analytical skills are off the charts," said Bandura, whose son attends Springside. "They welcomed her to the school."

That's a good thing, because the school's $28,000-plus price tag would have been well out of her family's range. Mo'Ne lives with her mother and stepfather and three siblings in a rowhouse in South Philly. Her mother is a nurse's aide at the Arc of Chester County, which provides services for people with disabilities. Her stepfather, Mark Williams, is a construction worker, out of work because of an injury.

Early on, Mclean used to try to dress her daughter in pink and red and would buy her dolls and play kitchen sets. Mo'Ne was more interested in basketballs. All she wanted to do was play sports. At first, her mother tried to dissuade her from sports, fearful that she might get injured. But Mo'Ne's passion eventually won out.

Mo'Ne, who turned 13 on June 24, dreams of attending the University of Connecticut on an athletic scholarship. She hopes to play for the WNBA, like her favorite players, Candace Parker of the Los Angeles Sparks and Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx.

'Anne Frank' with her

But for now, she's just a teenage girl who eats "like a man" and is known for consuming six chicken wings at a time. She likes athletic shoes by Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant. Her favorite school subjects are art and music. Mo'Ne has a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank with her in Williamsport.

Because she's a girl, Mo'Ne isn't allowed to stay with her teammates. Her mother told me that Mo'Ne has to bunk separately in a house with at least one other girl and a female chaperone.

"I'm not kind of too keen on that. I don't like that," Mclean said.

I couldn't help but ask her mom how Mo'Ne handles being the lone girl on the Dragons. An attractive one at that. Do her teammates ever get crushes on her?

"They used to. I was going through her phone - this was probably like two years ago - I was going through her phone and one of them was like, 'Oh, Mo, do you have a boyfriend?' I brought it to the coaches' attention . . . and that was resolved. So now they look at Mo as their sister. They protect Mo."

Mclean and the family plan to head to Williamsport early Friday to be there in time for her daughter's game at 3 p.m.

Meanwhile, Mclean has other children to care for, plus a job. And then there's incessant ringing of her phone, which keeps her from getting naps during the day.

She brightened, though, when I mentioned that Winfrey may be one of the callers.

"I sure will let Oprah interview her," Mclean said, laughing.


On Twitter: @JeniceArmstrong

Blog: ph.ly/HeyJen

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